When the men and women of our armed forces return home from service, they frequently suffer from physical, emotional, and mental difficulties. While healthcare for veterans is an ongoing dialogue, relatively little attention has been paid to the most prevalent disabilities diagnosed in veterans: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Even if you take into account age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having severe hearing impairment compared to non-veterans. Even though service-related hearing loss has been documented going back to World War 2, the numbers are even more stunning for military personnel who served more recently. Veterans who have served recently are generally among the younger group of service members and are also as much as four times more likely to have hearing loss than non-veterans.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Loss Greater For Service Personnel?
Two words: Noise exposure. Sure, some occupations are noisier than others. Librarians, for instance, are usually in a more quiet atmosphere. The volume of sound that they would usually be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (normal conversation).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic spectrum, such as an urban construction worker, the hazard rises. Sounds you’d continuously hear (city traffic, about 85 dB) or sporadically (an ambulance siren’s about 120 dB) are at hazardous levels, and that’s only background noise. Sounds louder than 85dB (from power tools to heavy machinery) are common on construction sites according to research.
Construction sites are undoubtedly loud, but individuals in the military are constantly exposed to noise that is far louder. This is definitely true in combat areas, where troops hear noises like gunfire (150 dB), hand grenades (158 dBA), and artillery (180 dB). But military bases, whether overseas or at home, are none too quiet either. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, sound levels can range from 130-160 dB; engine rooms may be inside (and no jets), but they’re still incredibly loud. For pilots, noise levels are high as well, with choppers being well over 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well above 100 dB. Another concern: One study found that exposure to some kinds of jet fuel appears to cause hearing loss by interrupting auditory processing.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss among military personnel aptly shows, for the men and women who serve our country, opting out is not an option. So that they can complete a mission or perform everyday tasks, they have to cope with noise exposure. And although hearing protection is standard issue, lots of the sounds just discussed are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection isn’t enough.
What Can Veterans do to Deal With Hearing Loss?
Noise related hearing loss can be eased with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The loss of high-pitch sound is the most common type of hearing impairment among veterans and this kind of impairment can be treated with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s often a symptom of another problem, treatment options are also available.
In serving our country, veterans have already made many sacrifices. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.